Piniella Boasts of Flexibility with Lineup

Cubs manager Lou Piniella has surveyed his team and says he believes he has some flexibility with his starting lineup.

Piniella seems intrigued with the idea of using either Ryan Theriot or Kosuke Fukudome as his leadoff hitter, with the other player hitting second. This figures to change on a game-by-game basis. Fukudome had a .375 on-base percentage last year, while Theriot's fell from .387 to .343 from 2008 to 2009. Neither is much of a base-stealing threat. Theriot did steal 21 last year, but he was caught 10 times.

The middle of the order features Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Marlon Byrd and Alfonso Soriano.

This is the first year the Cubs won't have to deal with questions about Soriano batting first. He was dropped from leadoff to No. 6 in the middle of last season, ending a 2 1/2 year run that brought constant calls for change from a restless public.

"He was signed here for a lot of money because of the success that he had out of the leadoff spot, and when we got him here, Alfonso was stealing 40 to 45 bases a year," Piniella said. "Then, we made the decision, with Soriano's consent, to move him to the sixth spot. Now, we're not looking at him as a leadoff hitter anymore. We're looking at him as a tail-end-of-the-middle-of-the-lineup hitter."

Rounding out the order is a platoon of Mike Fontenot and Jeff Baker at second base and catcher Geovany Soto. Soto dropped 40 pounds over the winter, and the Cubs are hoping for a return to the form that earned him Rookie of the Year honors in 2008.

Baker impressed the Cubs after his July arrival from Colorado. Fontenot is on the hot seat for a bounce-back year, especially after avoiding salary arbitration and getting a $1 million salary.

NOTES, QUOTES

--1B/3B Chad Tracy, who has been injury-plagued with Arizona in recent seasons, signed a minor league contract with the Cubs. Tracy, 30, hit .237 in 98 games with the Diamondbacks last year. He figures to serve as a backup at both corner infield positions.

--Theriot is seeking a raise from $500,000 to $3.4 million, and he could be heading to an arbitration hearing, as the Cubs are offering $2.6 million. Theriot became power-happy early in the 2009 season. He did hit a career-best seven homers and drove in a career-high 54. However, his on-base percentage dropped from .387 to .343. His walks dropped from 73 to 51 from 2008-09, and his strikeouts rose from 58 to 93, a career worst.

"Score runs, get on base," Theriot said of his goals for 2010. "I think last year, I kind of got into a little rut of trying to do too much. I think every year it's good to set goals, lofty goals, goals that are important."

--LHP Ted Lilly has begun light throwing. Piniella admitted at the Cubs Convention in mid-January that the Cubs are targeting May 1 for Lilly's return from arthroscopic surgery on his pitching shoulder.

"Our doctors, trainers think Lilly will be ready by May 1," Piniella said. "If we're going to miss a pitcher, the first month is the best month because of rainouts, more days off. You're always looking to get work for people. Teddy feels pretty good. He thinks he's going to be ready sooner, but we're not going to push him all that much."

--LHP Sean Marshall is not out of the running for a rotation job, especially with Lilly set to open the season the disabled list. Marshall has paid his dues quietly over the past several years, as he has started, relieved and even gone to the minor leagues without complaint. Marshall avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $950,000 deal. He had been seeking $1,175,000, while the Cubs were offering him $800,000. Piniella likes a lefty in the rotation, and Marshall will compete with LHP Tom Gorzelanny and RHPs Jeff Samardzija and Carlos Silva for a rotation spot in spring training. Marshall appeared in 55 games last year, starting nine. He had a 3.23 ERA as a reliever and a 5.24 ERA as a starter.

--RHP Carlos Marmol is the closer and that's cased closed, according to Piniella. Marmol was upset last spring after losing out to RHP Kevin Gregg for the closer's job. In August, the job was Marmol's, and he went 11-for-11 in save chances after landing the role.

"I think the right decision was made last year, starting out with Gregg and giving Marmol a little more chance to develop," Piniella said. "Actually, Gregg did a nice job for the first half of the season. He started to have some problems after the All-Star Game. We put Marmol in there and he responded. This year, he's our closer. No closer controversy. No closer decisions. I don't think we'll have any (controversies)."

Marmol is seeking $2.5 million in arbitration, while the Cubs are offering $1.75 million.

--Carlos Zambrano stayed in Chicago most of the winter and says he's been working on his conditioning, something he admitted he wasn't so diligent about in the past. Zambrano is expected to be the opening-day starter, despite going 9-7 last year after winning 14 in 2008. He has been the Cubs' opening day starter every year since 2005.

"I'm happy," Zambrano said. "New year. New expectations. I'm ready to go. I've been working hard, working on my abs, building the strength of my arm. Believe me, I'm ready to go."

INSIDE THE NUMBERS: 18-10 -- The Cubs' record in games started by Zambrano last year. Zambrano's own record was 9-7, and at one point during the 2009 season, he complained of not being able to "buy" a win.

HE SAID: "You just have to enjoy the moment of the 2010 Chicago Cubs and go out there and have fun. And who knows? Maybe at the end of the year, we can party like it's 1908." -- RHP Ryan Dempster, on the chance the Cubs could win their first World Series title in 102 years.

ROSTER REPORT

The Cubs completed their third consecutive above-.500 season for the first time since they did it six times in a row from 1967 to 1972. But it wasn't good enough to get them into the playoffs, as they missed for the first time since 2006. The Cubs certainly aren't in need of an overhaul. As iniella pointed out, they need better health and bounce-back seasons from a couple of key players in 2010.

BIGGEST NEEDS: The Cubs hope OF Marlon Byrd will give them a much-need middle-of-the-order bat.

ARRIVALS: RHP Carlos Silva (trade with Mariners), RHP Jeff Gray (trade with A's), OF Marlon Byrd (free agent from Rangers), 1B/3B Chad Tracy (minor league free agent from Diamondbacks).

DEPARTURES: OF Milton Bradley (traded to Mariners), RHP Rich Harden (free agent, signed with Rangers), INF/OF Jake Fox (traded to A's), INF Aaron Miles (traded to A's), LHP Neal Cotts (non-tendered, signed minor league deal with Pirates), RHP Aaron Heilman (traded to Diamondbacks), OF So Taguchi (released, signed with Japanese team).

FREE AGENTS: RHP Kevin Gregg, OF Reed Johnson, RHP Chad Fox. Gregg lost his job as closer to Marmol. Johnson, unlike Gregg, has a shot at coming back, but the Cubs have a host of young outfielders who can fill a backup role.

ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: RHP Carlos Marmol, SS Ryan Theriot. The Cubs have not gone to an arbitration hearing in almost two decades. That could change with Theriot.

IN LIMBO: Now that the Cubs have dumped OF Milton Bradley, they don't have anyone who falls into this category.

MEDICAL WATCH:

--Silva (sore right shoulder) missed most of the season before coming back to pitch a couple of innings in September. He will pitch in winter ball to try to build his arm strength back up.

--Soriano (arthroscopic left knee surgery in September 2009) should be healthy for the start of spring training.

--Lilly (left shoulder surgery in November 2009) is likely to spend the season's first month on the disabled list.

--Ramirez (dislocated left shoulder) played the second half with the aftereffects of the injury, which occurred in May. Ramirez maintains he does not need surgery, but he must work to strengthen the shoulder.

--Lee (neck spasms) was using the winter to rest.

Northsiders Report Top Stories